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Learning Languages Made Easy with Word Endings

Updated on May 31, 2017
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I grew up in Paris and Amsterdam, lived and worked in Berlin, London, and currently live in Spain. I now speak 5 languages by necessity.

Around 800,000 million people worldwide speak Latin based languages.
Around 800,000 million people worldwide speak Latin based languages.

For over 800 million Latin based language speakers spread out all over the world, a second language can be learned quickly and efficiently. Why? Because unwittingly, their native languages already contains over 9,000 words that are the same or very similar. Here is a comprehensive list of those crucial words, but first, what is the big secret?

Global spread of Latin Based languages. The circles denote little islands on this map.
Global spread of Latin Based languages. The circles denote little islands on this map.

So What s the Big Secret?

The link between English and so many other languages lies in word endings. The last syllable in thousands of words are virtually the same in English as in French, Spanish, Italian, Portuguese, Romanian, and several other related languages like Filipino etc. Let us begin by looking at words ending on "-ion".

Common suffixes denote a shared vocabulary.
Common suffixes denote a shared vocabulary.

Words Ending in –ion or –able –ible

In all Latin based languages, With a distinct difference in pronunciation, a slight difference in spelling, and where they are placed in a sentence most words that end on

  • -ion
  • -able or
  • -ible

are the same or very similar. Let us put this to the test with a few examples.

Levitation has magical connotations
La levitación tiene connotaciones mágicas
La lévitation a des connotations magiques
Levitazione ha connotazione magiche
Adorable babies touch emotions
Los bebés adorables tocan emociones
Les bébés adorables touchent les émotions
Bambini adorabili toccano emozioni
Inflation is not always detectable
La inflación no siempre es detectable
L'inflation n'est pas toujours détectable
L'inflazione non è sempre rilevabile
Vacations are for rehabilitation
Las vacaciones son para la rehabilitación
Les vacances sont pour la réhabilitation
Le vacanze sono per la riabilitazione
The situation is irrevocable
La situación es irrevocable
La situation est irrévocable
La situazione è irrevocabile
This extension is measurable
Esta extensión es mensurable
Cette extension est mesurable
Questa estensione è misurabile
This apparition is most presentable
Esta aparición es más presentable
Cette apparition est la plus présentable
Questa apparizione è più presentabile
The constitution defines what is acceptable
La constitución define lo que es aceptable
La constitution définit ce qui est acceptable
La Costituzione definisce ciò che è accettabile

From the above examples, it looks like it may be easier to learn several related languages all at once. The saying that the more languages you know, the easier it is to learn a new one is very true. Bu let us stick to word endings. The next category contains all words ending on -ant, -ent, ance, and -ents.

Words Ending in -ant, -ent, -ance, and -ence

Next is a list of only 5 words each in the category of countless words with the suffixes

  • -ant
  • -ent
  • -ance
  • -ence

In French, the words are usually spelt the same as in English. In Spanish, ”-ance” becomes “-ancia”.


More About Romance (Latin based) Languages


Cognates are words in different languages that

  • look the same
  • sound the same
  • mean the same

When I was new to London, aged 25, hardly speaking a word of English, I began to realize that many English words were the same as, or very similar to French. Being fluent in French, my trick was to simply use a French word like for example "journal", and then try to pronounce it in an English fashion. And more often than not, it worked. I later found out that such words are called cognates. The next illustration shows some examples of English/French cognates listed alphabetically.

False Cognates

False Cognates are words in different languages that

  • look the same
  • sound the same
  • do not mean the same

The next short video explains the difference between cognates and false cognates.

Embarrassing Misunderstandings

False cognates often create embarrassing misunderstandings as illustrated by the next unintentional joke.

The Ant in the Beer

An English speaking visitor to a French rural town is sitting in a bar drinking a beer.
He is approached by one of the locals who points at the beer and says "fourmi".
"No, no" replies the visitor "for me, it’s mine".
The Frenchman thinks for a minute and the repeats "fourmi".
The visitor rather exasperated says again "No, no, for me".
This sequence is repeated several times until the visitor, very annoyed, thumps the Frenchman who hastily leaves the bar.
The barman seeing the altercation comes across and explains: “There is an ant in your beer!”
"Oh heavens" says the visitor, "I must apologize to him. Does he come in here often?"
"Yes, every day" replies the barman. The next day the visitor meets the Frenchman again in the bar and apologetically says,
“Come here”
The Frenchman waves his arms about in fright and replies,
“Non, non, pas comme hier!” (= “not like yesterday”)

Adventures of a New Language Learner

To further lighten the load of learning a new language, here are some funny anecdotes I have experienced during my frequent moves from one country to another.

The Sauerkraut Story

At age 12, when we had just moved from Paris to Amsterdam, my bossy Dutch step father was cooking dinner and wanted some "zuurkool" (sauerkraut). He ordered,
'Juliette, quickly go to the greengrocers and get me to go and buy some "zuurkool" for dinner but I protested.
'I can't say that in Dutch, and I'll forget.'
'Don't be stupid,' he shouted, you've got to learn the language, so you might as well start now. It's simple enough, say "zuur"...
I repeated 'zuur'
'Good. Now say "kool (pronounced "cohl")
I copied him and said 'kool'
'Good. Now say "zuurkool"
I said 'zuurkool'
'Very good; you see, there is nothing to it, now just keep repeating "zuurkool" until you get to the shop.'...

My linguistic ignorance turned cabbage into oxygen.
My linguistic ignorance turned cabbage into oxygen.

...Chanting "zuurkoolzuurkoolzuur..., etc.” all along the canal, I turned right where all the shops were, still chanting, but more quietly now that I was among more people in the busy street. When I finally got to the greengrocer shop, a man was standing there wiping his hands on a dirty apron and said something incomprehensible in Dutch but it sounded like a question. I very bravely said,
'koolzuur'. The man looked at me with large eyes, lifted his shoulders and opened his palms. He pointed at various fruits and vegetables but I shook my head, no, no, no, that's not what I want. In the end I left the shop.

When I returned home empty handed, my step father asked,
'Well, where is the sauerkraut?'
'The man in the shop didn't have any koolzuur.'
'Idiot!' my step father said, 'koolzuur means "oxygen" you should have said "zuurkool, you idiot!' He went out and got it himself.

Meeting My First Cockney

Later, I moved to London to complete my studies in Choreology. One day, I wanted to get some bread at the little local grocery shop but my English was virtually non-existent. I was relieved to notice that the bread was neatly laid out in different piles on a shelf behind the counter. Pointing at the bread, I uttered,
'Bred pleeze?' but now the shopkeeper was beginning to make life difficult.
'Wotshlahsst?' he asked.
'No speek Inglies' I replied. And again I pointed at the bread, more forcefully this time. The man looked up in despair and handed me a loaf of bread, wrapped in plastic. On the way home, I read the label on the bread. It said: "White Sliced". Was that really what the man had been saying when he'd said "Wotshlahsst?" I wondered climbing up the stairs to my new room, unaware that I had just encountered my first London Cockney.


Much later, when I had just moved to Andalusia in Southern Spain, again not speaking the language, I made friends with my Spanish neighbors. The mother kept introducing me to her friends as ”La Traéra”. Wondering what “traéra” meant, I looked it up in my English / Spanish dictionary but the word didn’t exist in my dictionary. The next day I asked her: “What does ‘traéra’ mean? “Oh,” the mother said, she got out a piece of paper and wrote ‘estrangera’, which means “foreigner”. The people in Andalusia speak a very rapid incomprehensible dialect which often omits to pronounce the letter “s”.

But enough with funny language stories, let us now add up how many words are already lurking in your brain according to the above revelations.

Add Up the Number of Words You May Already Know


How do you prefer to learn a language?

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Over 9000 words may be the same in the new language. Considering that the average native English speaking adult uses a vocabulary of around 20,000 words, you are almost halfway there without even realizing it. Of course it takes more than just vocabulary to learn a language, but now that you know about the suffixes and cognates that English has in common with all Latin based languages, there is surely a lot less to memorize than you expected.

With a second language at your fingertips, the opportunities are endless. Good luck and let us know how you are getting on in the comments discussion.

© 2016 Juliette Kando


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